How I learned to destroy the things I love

Supplied Editorial Sturt Krygsman Life illo, march 12

Illustration: Sturt Krygsman


“You have to destroy to move forward,” says artist Peter Griffen, staring down at me as I finish a piece of art on his studio floor. “And the minute you move forward you will destroy the old anyway, whether you like it or not,” he says wielding a brush like a sword.

I have chosen pre-eminent Australian abstract artist Griffen, one of my favourites, to be my muse, having studied before in his workshops. It has been hard for me to break from my perfectionism and start letting the brush roam free after a long hiatus. Finally I’m happy with what I’ve done, proud of my colours, vibrancy, and freedom I call him over. He nods.

“Now rip it up. Tear it. Stick things over it. Paint over it.”

I stand aghast. I’m a hoarder, beloved artefacts remain with me forever: papers; people; my art from high school. My sister who is a minimalist has always quoted great philosopher Nietzsche to me: “Burn what you love, love what you burn.” To no avail. I am more apt to say “Hoard what you love …”

Staring at my “masterpiece”, the first thing I’ve created in a long time, the thought of tearing it up or painting over it horrifies me. Griffen has already ripped up a magnificent picture he was doing on artist’s paper and started sticking bits of it on another work, covering lines and colours with strange discordant shapes that he later paints over or glazes. Layer upon layer. Music is playing in the studio, freshly baked muffins steam away on the bench next us, with a pot of peach tea.

“You’re supposed to be enjoying yourself,” he chuckles as I stare sadly at my work. They say every moment of your life is a microcosm of the macrocosm. Here is mine. Like many of us I feel caught in a sticky world of limitations, shoulds and musts; clinging. If I were able to let go, of fear, identity, ego, possessions, looks, people, I’d be happier and freer. But I’m scared to open my hand.

“You can’t be both precious, and creative at the same time,” he says. I ask: “Do you ever regret destroying something?” “Sure … but it’s all part of the adventure! It’s only after the brushstrokes that you know what you’ve made.”

I lean down and reach for the paper. I rip it in two, then three. I start to muck around with my work playfully. I feel my brow unfurrow. I eat a muffin and sip my tea, surveying the mess, and smile like a child. It’s the way I lived before the stiffness set in.

As Peter says: “It’s only by going into the chaos, that clarity arises.”

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